Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Misunderstanding religious liberty and the freedom of the Church

Over at Commonweal, Prof. Massimo Faggioli (Villanova) has a piece  ("Continental Drift") that is, among other things, critical of Catholic bishops in the United States for their religious-liberty stance and activities.  Prof. Faggioli writes:

[T]here’s a gap in time between American Catholicism and the pontificate of Francis—not just the six- or nine-hour differences in time zones but what seems like a six- or nine-century difference in historical time. Institutional American Catholicism is longing for a relationship to a political power that is more medieval than modern or postmodern, hoping for protection from the persecution it feels in having lost cultural hegemony. This can be seen in the medieval understanding of religious liberty that has obtained since the beginning of the legal fight against certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act eight years ago. It resembles libertas Ecclesiae, the “freedom of the Church” to rule on the faithful as subjects, more than it does the concept of religious liberty laid out in Dignitatis Humanae, which is based on the freedom of conscience of the individual believer. It is an example of the “interrupted reception” of Vatican II in the U.S. Church. Vatican II tried to deal with the end of Tridentinism; its rejection brings us back not to Trent but even earlier, to a medieval Christendom as the past to which Roman Catholics ought to refer as the golden age.

This quote reflects both a mistaken view of the Church's "medieval" "relationship to . . . political power" and a mischaracterization -- indeed, a caricature ("to rule on the faithful as subjects") -- of what the Church in America has been seeking in the current American context.  The Council did not, contra Prof. Faggioli's suggestion, set the "freedom of conscience of the individual believer" against the freedom of the Church.  There's this (emphasis added):

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.  This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.

And, there's this:

The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.

Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government, in the selection, training, appointment, and transferral of their own ministers, in communicating with religious authorities and communities abroad, in erecting buildings for religious purposes, and in the acquisition and use of suitable funds or properties.

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word. However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one's right and a violation of the right of others.

In addition, it comes within the meaning of religious freedom that religious communities should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity. Finally, the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense.

In recent years, the rights of religious communities set out above have, in various ways, become more vulnerable and, in some cases (as in the previous Administration's position in the Hosanna-Tabor case) been attacked.  The Catholic bishops in America have been correct (and entirely in keeping with the religious-freedom views of Pope Francis and his predecessors) in defending these rights and nothing about this defense sets them against the religious freedom of individual believers.

  

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Garnett, Rick | Permalink